Title

When Do We Know that We Know? Considering the Truth of Research Findings and the Craft of Qualitative Research

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

8-2002

Abstract

Scientists and philosophers have struggled with issues of knowing for many years, and few credible researchers would deny that they wish to conduct studies that increase the ability to ‘know’. However, it can be argued that nurse researchers and theoreticians have paid insufficient attention to answering the fundamental question—when do we know that we know? To this end, this paper examines in a critical manner some of the key epistemological, philosophical and methodological issues and challenges some widely accepted, yet seldom confronted, myths. It looks firstly at ‘knowing’ as it is generally perceived by those who adhere to the quantitative paradigm and then focuses on knowing within the qualitative paradigm.

From our examination, we note that knowing in the quantitative paradigm does not appear to be as concrete as some might wish to believe, especially if the often stated but never challenged assumptions are considered. Similarly, we argue that knowing in the qualitative paradigm is complicated and can be seen to be bound up with the relationship with the participants. Thus, knowing in the qualitative paradigm may well, at least in part, be a product of the reciprocal relationship between researcher and the participants.

Consequently, this ‘knowing through the relationship’ indicates that qualitative research can be thought of as a craft and we make additional arguments that support this conceptualisation. We conclude by pointing out that, ultimately, knowing is temporary and fleeting, but in ‘knowing through the relationship’, in qualitative research as craft there exist the mechanisms and opportunities for the researcher to become empirically confident that he knows.

Comments

To acquire a personal use copy of this work, contact John Cutcliffe at john.cutcliffe@wright.edu.

DOI

10.1016/S0020-7489(01)00063-3